Combatting Explosive ATM Attacks in South Africa

In the mid-2000s, South African (bank) robbers turned their attention to robbing banks by using explosives to blow up Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs).

The robbers activity escalated so quickly that in 2007 there were approximately 190 reported cases of ATM bombings (and robberies). A staggering increase considering in 2004 there were only five reported cases, twelve in 2005 and 54 in 2006.

It became clear that robbers were seeing ATMs as an easier target to rob cash from given how difficult it had become for them to rob bank branches as well as cash-in-transit vans.

The attacks became such a menace and nuisance that First National Bank of South Africa, in 2007, declared that it was setting aside ZAR100 million to find solutions to combat these attacks.

But what else was causing this sudden surge in ATM attacks?

Mining Industry and Explosives

The attacks continued well into 2013 and it was slowly starting to emerge that the robbers were stealing explosives from South African mines.

It further emerged that this uniquely South African crime as reported by Independent Newspapers, that some of the gangs performing these crimes were white and with criminologist suspecting they had military training. This was a surprise for some criminologists as stated by criminologist Nirmala Gopal in an interview with Independent Newspaper:

“This shows that the colour of crime in our country is changing. It would appear that the type of crimes perpetrated by whites has changed and this is a very high-profile turn. Perhaps white people are getting more desperate, considering they are turning to such violent means,” she said.

It was only during the last quarter of 2013 and 2014 that the reported cases of ATM bombings started to decrease.

ATM bombings: Mine bosses could take the ultimate fall

What happened?

All of a sudden, the number of attacks dropped. There has been hardly any media reports about new ATM attacks.

What had happened? Was access to mining explosives removed? Had banks become smarter?

To get a clearer picture of what had happened we spoke to Martin Koffijberg, EMEA Product Marketing Manager ATM Security at Diebold.

Diebold provides "technology and services to maximize the self-service and security capabilities for financial institutions, commercial enterprises and various retail outlets around the world".

Martin Koffijberg Diebold

iAfrikan: How Has Diebold Countered Explosive ATM Attacks?

Martin Koffijberg: South Africa has a (large) mining industry and as a result some people have access to explosives. Whether we like it or not, it's a reality. Apparently it's not difficult to get access to these explosives.

As such South Africa has a history of explosive attacks on ATMS and it's still happening today.

We have been diligently working together with our customers and also with some of the local suppliers in order to develop special solutions to deal with these types of attacks.

So, we've made re-inforcements on safes that are able to cope with a blast of the explosives. Special safe doors and special hardening solutions to make it more difficult to penetrate the ATM and insert a dynamite stick into the safe, and that has been quite succesful.

We have been able to reduce the number of attacks. Criminals typically look for the weakest spot, if it becomes more difficult in place A they go to place B to continue their attacks, until it becomes difficult everywhere and they have to look for something else.

So that's how it works, it's the story of the ten foot wall and the twelve foot ladder - every time you build a wall, they come with a ladder that's a little bit taller.

We did this (solutions) especially for the South African market, and as I said, it has been quite succesful. Actually, we are almost back to zero (ATM attacks), but areas where those solutions are not installed the attacks continue.

In Brasil we did the same and developed a different solution - a two compartment safe where the dispenser was separated into two parts with the dispenser in the lower part and the presenter in the upper part. The presenter is where the exit of the safe is so if they put the dynamite stick there then they only blow up the top portion and the cash will remain safe inside the ATM.

In Europe we suffered from gas attacks on ATMs.

Cover Image Credit: MIKI Yoshihito

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